mdhslibrary has written 38 posts for underbelly

Let’s hear from O’s manager Paul Richards: “A keen baseball mind”

PP79-1208 President Eisenhower at Griffith Stadium, Washington D

Paul Richards (in Orioles jacket) with Washington Senator’s manager, Chuck Dressen, and President Eisenhower at the home opener at Griffith Stadium, Wash., D.C. “President Eisenhower at Griffith Stadium,” Robert Kniesch, MdHS, PP79-1208.

Who cares what the so-called experts predict for the Orioles this season? The Ravens did okay last season, the O’s looked pretty great in spring training, William Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter III has our confidence, and spring is sprung. No so-called sports expert  or weatherman or even Mark Reynolds is going to rain on our enjoyment of tomorrow’s home opener.

Speaking of experts and O’s Managers… this week we thought we’d take a look back at Paul Richards who managed the Orioles from 1955 to 1960. Richards played for years as an infielder in the minor leagues, until making his pro debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He finished out his playing days as a catcher with the New York Giants and Detroit Tigers. Richards came to manage in Baltimore after a short stint piloting the Chicago White Sox.

Richards is perhaps best remembered for his small ball style of play. At a time when the home run was the strategy for many a team’s success, he instead stressed pitching, defensive skills, and base stealing. His list of accomplishments includes: being the first manager since John McGraw to hold the position of field manager and general manager simultaneously, orchestrating a 17-player trade with the Yankees (the largest trade in baseball history)*, being named Manager of the Year in 1960, and most notably—in Baltimore—he’s known as the man who drafted Brooks Robinson. As if that weren’t enough to earn this city’s eternal gratitude, he was also known to wax poetic about the Oriole Way. Here’s some film from our vault of Paul Richards telling it like only Paul Richards could. (Joe Tropea)



“Play Ball with the Orioles” (1957), produced by Gunther Beer, 16mm transfer, MdHS. Edited by Joe Tropea.


Your Baltimore Canaries: a very brief history of Baltimore’s second professional base ball team

Look up, Baltimore baseball fans! You’ve come a long way.

The origin of baseball in Baltimore is a ridiculously complicated affair. Scant photographic evidence remains and accounts in newspapers, which used nicknames for teams and players as often as they did proper names, leave behind a murky, hard-to-follow record.

By the 1870s there were already a handful of defunct Maryland base ball* clubs with names like the Excelsiors, the Marylands, the Pastimes, the Monumentals, etc. Keeping track of who they were, where they played, where they packed up and left town to play before coming back under another team name is a chore difficult for the most earnest of sporting historians. Add to this mess a game so loosely organized that it was impossible to even agree on a national champion until 1894. A little research on the subject yields a solid argument for keeping things simple, so here goes…

"Members of the Lord Baltimore Base Ball Club of Baltimore, Maryland,"

“Members of the Lord Baltimore Base Ball Club of Baltimore, Maryland” in the first year of their existence with Lip Pike at bottom left. The Dramatic News and Sporting News couldn’t even get Pike’s name right. He’s listed as Lyman Pike. Medium Prints, Sports, Baseball 1872, MdHS.

Meet your Lord Baltimores a.k.a. the Yellow Stockings a.k.a the Baltimore Canaries, so called for their bright yellow uniforms. These dandies wore thick silk shirts—instead of the usual flannel—emblazoned with the Calvert arms, wide white belts, and snazzy yellow and black argyle socks.

The 1872 Lord Baltimores, detail from James Bready's Baseball in Baltimore. Uncredited photo.

The 1872 Lord Baltimores, detail from James Bready’s Baseball in Baltimore. Uncredited photo.

The year was 1872. Out of the ashes of Waverly’s Pastime Base Ball Club, which started fielding amateur players as early as 1861, came the Lord Baltimores. When the team played well, fans called them Lords. When they didn’t win, fans were more inclined to call them Canaries. They were the city’s first professional team under the auspices of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, but they were its second professional team overall.

The honor of being Baltimore’s first professional base ball club went to the Marylands who in the late 1860s defected to Fort Wayne, Indiana when wealthy businessmen there flashed some cash and convinced them to stay while the team was in town for a game. After a brief dalliance as the Fort Wayne Kekiongas, half the team returned home to Charm City to form the Lords. Not surprisingly the team was plagued from the start with rumors that they threw games.

v32_a2_e sachse cos_birds eye view_1869

Newington Park probably sat below Cumberland Road to the left of Pennsylvania Avenue in this depiction by the Sachse Company. Bird’s Eye View of the City of Baltimore, 1869, V32-a2, MdHS.

In their three seasons of existence (1872-1874), the Lord Baltimores played their home games at Baltimore’s Newington Park, which was located between Baker and Gold Streets. There are no known photographs of the venue, though with the help of G.M. Hopkins’ Atlas and the Sachse Company’s “Bird’s Eye View…” we’re able to get some idea of when and where the park stood. Newington Park was located on Pennsylvania Avenue “extended” in West Baltimore.

The site of Newington Park which by 1876 was known as the Peabody Base Ball Grounds  found in G.M. Hopkins' Atlas of Baltimore and Its Environs. Vol. 1 (1876) available at MdHS.

The site of Newington Park which by 1876 was known as the Peabody Base Ball Grounds found in G.M. Hopkins’ Atlas of Baltimore and Its Environs. Vol. 1 (1876) available at MdHS.

The club’s most popular player, Lipman Emanuel “Lip” Pike (1845–1893),** was also the first Jewish major leaguer. Known as the “Iron Batter,” the left-handed batsman was a homerun king at a time when dingers were only an occasional treat. A noted speedster, Pike was no stranger to the inside-the-park homerun and had a reputation for racing any challenger for a cash prize. On August 16, 1873, he reportedly raced a horse named “Clarence” in a 100-yard sprint at Newington Park, and won by four yards with a time of 10 seconds flat, earning him a cash prize that would amount to about $5,000 today).*** While in Baltimore Lip Pike ran a cigar store on Holliday Street near Fayette. His financial prospects outlived his team’s.****

Finishing their first and second seasons in second and third place respectively, the future of the Lords club was looking bright. But the Panic of 1873 caught up with the team’s financiers. Funding dried up and the team they fielded in 1874 was a disgrace. They ended their final season 9-38, 31.5 games behind the first place Boston Red Stockings. (Joe Tropea)


* Prior to 1890, baseball was written “base ball.”

**Baseball Almanac, United Press International. October 9, 1986.

*** Joseph Siegman, Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame, 2005.

**** Lip Pike played and managed teams up and down the East Coast after the Canaries went kaput. When his baseball days were over he ran a haberdashery that became a well-known hangout for baseball enthusiasts. In 1893, he died of a heart attack at age 48 and was buried in his native Brooklyn, N.Y.

James H. Bready, Baseball in Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1998.

Paul Batesel, Players and Teams of the National Association, 1871-1875, McFarland, 2012.

Glimpses Into Baseball History blog, “Early Baltimore Baseball, Part 16,”

A Whale of a Tale: the Mysterious Case of the Tolchester Whale*


"Go See the Whale at Tolchester", lithograph by R.H. Eichner & Company, 1889, Large Prints, Maryland Historical Society.

“Go See the Whale at Tolchester”, lithograph by R.H. Eichner & Company, 1889, Large Prints, Maryland Historical Society.

It’s hard to work at the Maryland Historical Society and not be familiar with the R.H. Eichner & Company color lithograph entitled “Go See the Whale at Tolchester, 1889.” An original of this iconic print lives in our library, and posters depicting it grace the halls of the Education Department and the offices on the building’s third floor. It is also prominently featured in Maryland in Prints, 1743-1900 by Laura Rice, a book we often reference when assisting researchers. It is one of our favorite prints.

Despite the print’s depiction of a large dead whale, it is surprisingly charming. The behemoth lies on the beach almost playfully, seemingly in his prime, and looking far from dead. Its jaw appears to have been braced open in a permanent smile,  and on its tongue a table, a few chairs, and a Persian rug. Its beckoning smile draws in tourists, allowing them entrance for a small fee. Several well-dressed men and women are enjoying this quiet past-time, feasting in their very best clothes, as families surround the huge curiosity.  It literally looks like a healthy whale just splashed up on the beach at Tolchester.

This same pier at Tolchester Beach can be seen in the background of "Go See the Whale at Tolchester." Tolchester Park, ca. 1915, MdHS, PP128-24

This same pier at Tolchester Beach can be seen in the background of “Go See the Whale at Tolchester.” Tolchester Park, ca. 1915, MdHS, PP128-24

What kind of person would take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit in a dead whale’s mouth? Would this be an enjoyable experience?  What would it have been like? The more we discussed the image the more questions we had. What was the truth of that summer day at Tolchester Beach? We began our journey into the belly of the beast…..

According to an article in the May 30, 1899 issue of the Baltimore American newspaper, a seventy-five ton (species unspecified) whale was captured off the coast of Cape Cod on June 5, 1888. The Egyptian Balm Company in Boston then embalmed the beast for the not-so-small sum of $3,000. When the process was complete, the whale, having dried out and shed some blubber, was down to fifty tons.  Why would someone do that you might ask? Well, the gentle giant was to be a star attraction during the opening week of a new season at the Tolchester Beach resort on Maryland’s  Eastern Shore. The whale was placed on a barge, the Thomas J. Campbell of Philadelphia, while it was prepped to sail to Tolchester. Though the resort was unveiling a wide assortment of new facilities for the 1889 season, the most important was a new iron steamship called the Tolchester, that would bring people to the resort from Pier 16 on Light Street in Baltimore twice a day throughout the season. The idea was to drum up some publicity for the new ferry service.

The Steamship Tolchester. Tolchester Photograph Collection, Maryland Historical Society, PP128-70a, no date.

The Steamship Tolchester. Tolchester Photograph Collection, Maryland Historical Society, PP128-70a, no date.

The presumably monumental task of embalming a whale creates some logistical problems. How does one go about preserving a creature that is large enough to accommodate lunch guests in its mouth? Does someone have to make like Jonah and travel inside its belly to hose it down? Do you hold it by the tail and dip it in a large tub? How many gallons of embalming fluid were used? How bad was the stench? It would seem that in the best case scenario,  the final product would more closely resemble  the Montauk Monster than the Great White Whale of our iconic print.

After conducting fairly exhaustive searches of Maryland newspapers we still weren’t able to uncover any evidence verifying that the event actually happened. The only items we turned up were a few articles mentioning that the whale was being prepped for the event. More proof was needed – a document or eyewitness account confirming the story, or even better, a photograph of someone inside the whale would be our (cough) white whale…

Luckily the Tolchester Beach Revisited Museum exists and when contacted, curator Mr. William Betts, kindly added some clues.. He was indeed quite familiar with this image as well as the article from the Baltimore American. He even offered a story of one visitor’s mother or grandmother who did see the whale – but again nothing but hearsay. Mr. Betts also sent us a clipping of an article from the Kent County News dated June 1, 1989, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the whale’s visit. But alas, no concrete evidence of people actually entering the whale’s mouth at Tolchester turned up. We remained unsatisfied.

Since options were running thin, there was only one place left to turn. We entered the unverifiable, out of context, anything goes, dark hole of a research machine, known as Google – and struck pay dirt. Apparently, embalmed whale curiosities, much like hanged elephants, were quite an attraction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.. These dried monstrosities traveled across the country, attracting flocks of spectators while bringing in a modest fee. An online article called “Memory Dredges up a Whale of a Tale”, produced by the Onondoga Historical Association, references a whale that traveled to Seneca Falls, NY in 1891. The story sounded quite familiar. Like our Tolchester leviathan, it too was 65 feet in length and weighed 75 tons when it was caught near Cape Cod in 1888. The article goes even further, naming a Captain Nickerson as the man who landed the behemoth with a boom lance. Interestingly enough this article also contains the following line: “the poster claims the whale was so big twelve gentlemen sat in its mouth and enjoyed an oyster supper.” Is it a coincidence such similar copy was included in the poster referenced here and the R.H. Eichner & Co. lithograph of our investigation? More importantly, both of these were posters – anyone can draw a whale, right? The claim of people sitting inside the whale’s mouth was beginning to sound more and more like sensational advertising of the time.

Then we found some photos on this web site.

This photo is probably s bit closer to what the whale at Tolchester looked like. Non-MdHS image taken from 'Spectacular Attractions", no citation.

This photo is probably a bit closer to what the whale at Tolchester looked like. Non-MdHS image taken from ‘Spectacular Attractions,” no citation.

This wasn’t the exact evidence we were looking for, but it seemed to confirm our suspicions. Though the photograph shows a couple of people in the mouth of a whale, it definitely does not resemble the scene from our Tolchester print. The men certainly do not look like they could be enjoying an oyster dinner. One can see how this shriveled, crusty, sun-baked monstrosity  would not make for a handsome print.

Though there is a lack of evidence about the whale at Tolchester, its existence isn’t really called into question. We aren’t calling the print completely fraudulent, just misleading. It is an advertisement – why would we expect the truth? The mythology of the event surely has developed a life of its own. The fact that the only remaining existing document is a misleading advertisement plays no small role in our collective cultural memory. Did men and women put on their finest clothes and gaily feast, while sitting on top of a whale’s putrid tongue on a hot summer day in Maryland? We doubt it. So until our loyal readers can point to evidence that proves otherwise (backed up by primary documents) we will continue to be quite skeptical  about the truth of that June day at Tolchester Beach.

It should be noted that by June 9, 1889, less than one week after the whale was displayed as an attraction, it was quickly forgotten. Our fishy friend was soon replaced by cannonball catcher Charles P. Blatt. Known as “The Great, The Only,” Blatt drew large crowds as he caught 35 pound balls shot out of a cannon with his bare hands. **

“Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me too? – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

(Debbie Harner and Eben Dennis)


*The authors were overwhelmed with all the possible titles for this post.

** Family members joined Blatt in Tolchester that summer. Their gig was to submerge themselves in a large tank of water…their record was four minutes. They should have invited the whale to join them…

“Excursions,” The Baltimore American, May 30, 1889

“The Improvements at Tolchester,” The Baltimore Sun, May 30, 1889;jsessionid=F97CA05C2D24DEEF57B1E6AEB6FF049F.worker1en/8143545/imageDetails.html

Lost City: The Sulzebacher House

Sulzebacher House, ca 1865, MdHS, CC956.

Sulzebacher House, ca 1865, MdHS, CC956.

West Baltimore was once a densely packed, vibrant neighborhood full of theaters, local businesses, and industry. Drive down many of the streets today and you’re likely to see a vacant lot or a boarded up row house on nearly every other block. But even an empty field has a history. The tiny, off-kilter house pictured to the left is one of the oldest houses in West Baltimore. Or at least it was circa 1865 when the photograph was taken. Like many of Baltimore’s historic structures it has been lost to time and the march of progress. It is now the site of a vacant lot. Built in the mid-1700s, the two-story wood frame house was located at 930 West Baltimore Street, two doors west of Amity Street. The property is known as the Sulzebacher house. The name is most likely a corruption of Sulzbach; according to the Baltimore city directoriesa currier named Peter Sulzbach occupied the residence for a few years in the 1840s.

The house is of typical design for a mid-eighteenth century home in Baltimore. The gable roof may point to the construction of the home in the 1760s or 1770s; by then “gambrel roofs had fallen out of favor and most frame houses were a full two stories in height, with gable roof, with or without dormers.”* The building’s obvious tilt was characteristic of structures “located on streets built to match a since-altered street grade.”** Visible on the second floor is a fire insurance seal. Also called a fire mark, these iron, copper, or lead emblems indicated that a specific insurance firm paid a volunteer fire department to protect it – Baltimore’s first paid fire department was established in 1859, but the fire seals often remained left on the buildings. The Sulzebacher house survived for over 150 years, no mean feat for a wood frame house from that period. Sometime before 1911 the house was razed – the structure is not visible on the 1911 edition of the Sanborn fire insurance atlas – and replaced by a three-story barber shop.

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 1920, Hughes Company, MdHS, MC6284. A sign for the New Aladdin Theater is visible in the center of the photograph.

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 1920, Hughes Company, MdHS, MC6284. A sign for the New Aladdin Theater is visible in the center of the photograph. (Click to enlarge)

The house at 932 West Baltimore Street, the edge of which can be seen in the photograph, may have been even older. Built in the same period, it had a much larger frontage than its neighbor at 930. The original structure was razed just a few years prior to the Sulzebacher house to make way for a motion picture theater. Both 932 and 930 West Baltimore Street appear to have caught the eye of rival theater owners. At around the same time that James W. Bowers was pursuing the properties at 932, A. Freedman had similar designs on 930. Freedman apparently lost the contest, because the only theater that debuted was Bower’s Aladdin Theater, which opened its doors to the public near the end of 1909. Advertising itself as “West Baltimore’s finest motion picture house,” the Aladdin theater seated about 400 patrons.

Between 1910 and 1938 the theater changed both ownership and names a number of times. In 1917 J. Louis Rome purchased it and renamed it the New Aladdin. The following year it came under the control of C.E. Nolte and his partner, Baltimore-born movie mogul Frank Durkee, whose Durkee Enterprises owned or controlled a large number of the movies houses in Baltimore, including the Ritz, the Palace, the Arcade, and the Senator. In 1930 the theater became the New Queen. It was open for less than a year, perhaps closing from the effects of the Great Depression. Then from 1933 to 1938 it operated as the segregated Booker T. Theater. This was the last of the property’s run as a host for cinematic productions – in 1942 it was converted into a plant for the New Gold Bottling Company, a soft drink manufacturer.

Sun Spot Advertisement, 1949, Hughes Company, MdHS, PP30.254-49.

Sun Spot Advertisement, 1949, Hughes Company, MdHS, PP30.254-49.

The New Gold Bottling Company was founded in 1925 by Greek immigrant Dionicios Karavedas. The company went on to produce Sun Spot, a popular orange flavored soft drink, whose advertisements boasted that it was made with real orange juice. During the 1950s and 1960s, the beverage, which retailed for a nickel, could be found in neighborhood stores and confectionaries throughout the city. The riots of 1968, which hit West Baltimore particularly hard, led to a decline in business for the soft drink manufacturer. In an odd change of direction, Dionicios’s son Nicholas, who took over the company after his father retired in 1960, began producing a sugar detecting beverage alongside his sugar enhancing ones – in the 1970s, he was involved with developing a product known as GTTS (Glucose tolerance testing solution) that detected the presence of gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Through a new company, Custom Laboratories, Inc., Karavedas went on to become the “the largest supplier of glucose testing solutions in the country.”***

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 2013, Photograph by Google.

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 2013, Photograph by Google.

By the 1980s, the beverage companies were still producing their dissimilar drinks on West Baltimore Street. But the city had its own plans for the site. In the mid-1980s it began purchasing properties on both the 900 and 800 blocks of West Baltimore Street for a proposed redevelopment project.

By 1992 the Karavedas owned companies were the remaining holdouts. According to a Baltimore Sun article from that year, the beverage companies were “the last tenants on a block the city has been clearing for as-yet unspecified housing or commercial redevelopment use.”**** By 1998, they had relocated across the city to Highlandtown. Twenty years later the 900 block of West Baltimore street, now owned by the University of Maryland, still remains undeveloped, a field of grass surrounded by a mixture of boarded up row homes, storefronts, University of Maryland medical buildings, and vacant lots. (Damon Talbot)

900 block, West Baltimore Street, corner of Amity Street, 2013, Photograph by Google.

900 block, West Baltimore Street, corner of Amity Street, 2013, Photograph by Google.


 *Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004), p. 9.

**The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, West)

***Kelly, Jacques, “Nicholas D. Karavedas, beverage producer, dies,” The Baltimore Sun, October 19, 2010. 

****”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992. 

Sources and further reading:

Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992. 

The Dielman-Hayward File, Karavadas, Dionicios

Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004)

Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Exit: A History of the Movies in Baltimore (University Park, Md: Robert Kirk Headley, Jr., 1974)

Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore: An Illustrated History and Directory of Theaters, 1895-2004 (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006)

Jones, Carleton, Lost Baltimore Landmarks: A Portfolio of Vanished Buildings (Baltimore: Maclay & Associates., 1982)

Kelly, Jacques, “Nicholas D. Karavedas, beverage producer, dies,” The Baltimore Sun, October 19, 2010.

Life Magazine, December 24, 1965

The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, 930-932, West)

Antoinette in the Air: Hubert Latham and His Historic Flight Over Baltimore, 1910

Hubert Latham (1883-1912) BCLM- Halethrope Aviation Meet-1910-Mdhs-MC1985-1

Hubert Latham (1883-1912), photographer unknown, ca. 1910, MdHS, MC1985-1.

Hubert Latham was almost the first person to fly an airplane over the British Channel. If the French aviator and adventurer was discouraged when his first attempt came up short, he never showed it. As he bobbed in the waves waiting to be retrieved by a passing vessel, Latham casually smoked a cigarette in the cockpit of his wrecked Antoinette.* Adventure was his business, and keeping a cool head was a prerequisite in the daredevil profession. Although he failed to be the first to reach the White Cliffs of Dover his flight proved to be historic in another way. He had completed the world’s first landing of an aircraft in the sea.

Fate worked against him once again in July, 1909, when gusty conditions delayed his next Channel crossing attempt. Latham and his crew went to sleep in the wee hours of July 25, 1909 at their camp near Sangatte, France, hoping to try and make history the next morning. Little did they know that rival aviator  Louis Bleriot (1872-1936) and his team had been closely monitoring the weather as well as the activity at Latham’s camp. Around 2 am, Bleriot’s crew found a break in the wind, and decided it was now or never. They hastily prepared their man and ship (bearing his namesake The Bleriot XI) for takeoff, and at daybreak Bleriot took flight.** Thirty-six minutes and thirty seconds later Bleriot made a hard landing above the White Cliffs near Dover Castle in England and received the £1,000 purse. He became the first man to fly over the Channel, and Latham was left sharing a forgotten corner of history with Buzz Aldrin and Antonio Salieri as just another famous almost.***

Hubert Latham from The [Baltimore] Star. Jesse Cassard Scrapbook- 1883-1946-MdHS-MS 223

Hubert Latham in the cockpit of his Antoinette monoplane. Taken from The [Baltimore] Star. Jesse Cassard Scrapbook, 1883-1946, MdHS, MS 223

But, a daredevil doesn’t live for accolades alone, so Latham’s story did not end there. Air shows and aerial competitions were becoming more and more popular across Europe and America. Lots of prize money, advertising opportunity for Antoinette engine, and risk remained to satisfy the adventurer’s hunger. The field of aviation was still in its infancy, so plenty of records remained to be set. Latham throttled his plane high into the air and set altitude records in Reims, France, and in Mourmelon-le-Grand. According to legend, he became the first to fly an airplane backwards, when against better judgement, he flew into a gale during a competition in Blackpool, England in 1909. The next year he became the first person to hunt wild fowl from an airplane while at a competition in Los Angeles.

In 1910, a variety of record setting opportunities presented themselves, including an extremely enticing (not to mention lucrative) offer in Baltimore. To coincide with the airshow in nearby Halethorpe, the A.S. Abell Company, owners of The Baltimore Sun, offered a $5,000 prize for any aviator who would “give all the people of [Baltimore] an opportunity to witness the most remarkable scientific triumph of the present age.” The chosen aviator would dazzle the crowds by flying high above the city. If this feat was accomplished, according to a November 2 Sun article, Baltimore would be “[the] first city serving as the setting for a charted aerial voyage over [its] housetops.” A November 23 article further described the event as “[the] first time a bird-man has traversed the air over a course laid out for him beforehand, with turns and curves and changes in direction, so that the entire population can see the exhibition.”  Later, the clarification was added concerning the type of flight—it was the first “heavier than air machine” to fly over a large American city. Besides the scientific breakthroughs of the time, it was also a remarkable age for advertising. The opportunity for the Sun to educate and entertain the public, while at the same time promoting their paper, made the $5,000 purse seem rather small under the circumstances.

Jesse Cassard Scrapbook, MS 223, MdHS

Latham’s historic flight shares pages in this scrapbook with clippings about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Jesse Cassard Scrapbook, 1883-1946, MdHS, MS223

Though these superlative statements are obviously a bit vague, they certainly raise some questions. The significance of the event in terms of potential danger and shared communal experience cannot be overlooked. A crash over water or into an open field was one thing, but an engine failure or crash over a large population center meant certain death. At the same time, more than a half million Baltimoreans would be able to witness the flight—the air show would come to them without travel or the cost of a ticket. For most spectators, this would be their first look at an airplane; they would share this collective glimpse into the future. 

Even though Latham had a history of crash landings (and wrecked in two of his next three flights), the reward outweighed the risk and he accepted. The advertising opportunity for the Antoinette engine, the prize money, recognition, and of course, the thrill of the flight were all too much for the daredevil to pass up. In addition, a $500 reward would be tacked on by Ross Revillon Winans (1850-1912) if Latham would complete one small side mission.

Ross Revillon Winans (dates) PVF- Ross R. Winans-1886-MdHS

Ross Revillon Winans (1850-1912)  Ross R. Winans, 1886, MdHS, PVF.

Ross R. Winans was grandson to the Baltimore railroad pioneer, mechanic, inventor, and benefactor, Ross Winans (1796-1877).  Unlike his grandfather, Ross R. Winans was more  gentleman of leisure. He lived much of his luxurious life in a French chateau far away from his home town.**** Tragedy struck Ross R. Winans in 1907 when his wife Mary, son William, and daughter Beatrice, all died in the span of six months. He and his son, Thomas, arranged to accompany the bodies on a cargo ship from Europe and make a permanent return to Baltimore. At the last minute, Thomas disembarked and disappeared with a Spanish dancer; the father-son relationship was never salvaged. Ross R. returned to his hometown a recluse. He was rarely seen or heard from until 1910 when he placed a letter to the Sun offering Latham an additional $500 to alter his flight path so that he would circumnavigate his house at 1217 St. Paul Street. Winans was bed-ridden and didn’t appear to have much time left in life. He would only have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the monoplane if Latham plotted a course low over the skyline on the rear, or east-facing, side of his house, where he could look out the window from his bed. Latham graciously accepted the prize money, and agreed to loop around 1217 St. Paul as part of the exhibition.

Hubert Latham taking off from the Halethorpe air show in his Antoinette monoplane. BCLM-MC1985-2- MdHS

Hubert Latham taking off from the Halethorpe air show in his Antoinette monoplane. Halethorpe Aviation Meet, 1910, BCLM, MdHS, MC1985-2

So at 12:16:45 pm on November 7, 1910, Latham and his fifty-horsepower Antoinette took off from Halethorpe and began his plotted path over the city. Bells rang out across the city as workers were released from Wise Brothers, R.M. Sutton & Co., Torsch packing, and other businesses and industries, for a long lunch to watch the exhibition. People converged to the rooftops of The Sun Building, the B& O building , the Courthouse, and the balcony around the City-Hall dome. Even patients at Johns Hopkins pressed their faces to the window in anticipation of the low swoop-by promised by the bird-man.***** Latham flew over Fort McHenry, northwest to the American building on Baltimore Street, back east to Patterson Park, north to North Avenue, west to Eutaw Place, back east to Mount Royal Ave before turning northeast to circle Druid Hill Park, south to St. Paul street where he maneuvered into view of Winans’ bedroom window- circling the property, and southwest to the Sun Building before heading back to Halethorpe. Twenty-five miles and forty-two minutes later Hubert Latham landed safely back at Halethorpe. Latham sat in the cockpit with the propellor running while he smoked a cigarette, before finally being hauled by mechanics into the hangar. With flair for dramatic, Latham said, “Not a word until I have eaten lunch,” to the throngs of reporters anxiously waiting to speak to the hero.

Latham's flight path over Baltimore on November 7, 1910. The yellow arrow represents the photo at the bottom of the post, and the blue arrow indicates where he circled around Ross R. Winan's mansion. The Indiana Jones effect was photoshopped on top of a Commisioners for Opening Roads, General Map of Baltimore, 1911 from our map collection.

Latham’s flight path over Baltimore on November 7, 1910. The yellow arrow represents the photo at the bottom of the post, and the blue arrow indicates where he circled around Ross R. Winan’s mansion. The Indiana Jones effect was photoshopped on top of a Commisioners for Opening Roads, General Map of Baltimore, 1911 from our map collection.

Latham and his flight were fondly remembered in Baltimore for many years. According to a Sun article from June 4, 1911, bellboys, chambermaids, and clerks working at the Belvedere refused to spend the autographed $1 tips that he passed out to all the help during a tour of the building. To many Baltimoreans, the historic flight held a place in their memory on par with the sinking of the Titanic and the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. They would never forget where they were when Latham made his historic flight over the city.

Latham continued to fly, participating in air shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in Europe before resuming his world travels. Having studied indigenous cultures in Indochina and Abyssinia (Ethiopia), hunted game in Somaliland (Somalia), and travelled throughout East Asia, it was not surprising when he returned to his wanderlust habits in late 1911. It came as tragic news to Baltimoreans and the French people alike when they learned he had been gored to death by a water buffalo while hunting in the French Congo, though vague reports of a more suspicious death circulated. (Eben Dennis)

The impetus for this post was the photograph below, which was recently donated to our library by the Ross County Historical Society in Ohio after it was deemed outside the scope of their collection.  In cataloging this new acquisition we are given the chance to highlight both an interesting side note of Baltimore history, while at the same time showing the cooperation that often exists behind the scenes in libraries as they not only actively collect items within the scope of their mission, but seek homes for orphaned items which are more suited elsewhere. 


Hubert Latham flying over the corner of Broadway and Bank Streets as he headed northwest towards the American Building (see yellow arrow on map) Baltimore-Airplanes-Hubert Latham, 1910, MdHS SVF – Medium Photos


*The Antoinette engine was originally developed by Léon Levavasseur whom supplied Latham with engines during his stint as a speedboat racer.  Later, after Latham was inspired by performances by Wilbur Wright (who was trying to sell an engine of his own) he sought out a company that would train him as a pilot to promote their product. In the meantime, Levavasseur had formally established the Antoinette Company (based off the precursor engine from the speedboats) and happily obliged Latham’s request. He quickly mastered the engine and became the company’s top pilot.

**Latham and his crew tried to get up quickly after Bleriot, hoping to pass him, but by the time they were ready the weather had turned for the worse once again.

***Latham made a second attempt to cross the British Channel and failed once again, this time coming up just a few miles short after his Antoinette suffered from engine failure.

****A large chunk of his inheritance came from a Winans Locomotive contract that his father and grandfather made with the Czar of Russia to equip the new Moscow – St. Petersburg line in 1842.

*****Evidently Latham’s flight, which fluctuated in up to 3,000 feet, reached its lowest point of 400 feet near the hospital, where the patients claimed to be able to see his face.


“Hubert Latham’s Tips Sacred.” Baltimore Sun, June 4, 1911.

“Latham sees Mr. Winans:…….Looks for Landing in River, Carroll or Patterson Parks or Open Ground.” Baltimore Sun, November 5, 1910.

“Hubert Latham the Man, Daredevil of the Air….” Baltimore Sun, November 8, 1910.

“Latham Hunts Ducks in Airship.” New York Times, December 23, 1910.

“Latham in Antoinette Wreck: Frenchman has Remarkable Escape from Death at Frisco.” Baltimore Sun, January 11, 1911.

“Flying Over Baltimore: Latham’s Remarkable Feat as it Appeared to a Texas Newspaper.” Baltimore Sun, November 23, 1910.

Pioneer Chartered Trip: Aerial Voyage of Latham….” Baltimore Sun, November 2, 1910.

“Mr. Ross Winans Offers $500: Sick in His Home, He wants to See the Great Flight.” Baltimore Sun, November 1, 1910.

“Ross R. Winans Dead.” Baltimore Sun, April 26, 1912

See Also

Dielman-Hayward File, Maryland Historical Society

Howard Cruett Wilcox/Halethorpe Air Meet Collection, 1910, PP139, Maryland Historical Society

Jesse L. Cassard Scrapbook, 1883-1946, MS 223, Maryland Historical Society

BBC News.

Forgotten aviator: Hubert Latham by Barbara Walsh

Paul Henderson Collection: Who or Where?

The Paul Henderson Photograph Collection contains over 6,000 photographs of mostly unidentified African Americans from ca. 1935-1965. When the Paul Henderson: Baltimore’s Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960 exhibition opened in 2012, several people from the media asked why it was important for MdHS to identify the people Henderson photographed in and around Baltimore. If you’ve ever looked through a family album and asked yourself, Who is that with so and so? or thought, I wish this person was around to ask who or where this was taken, you can sympathize with an archive’s desire to identify people and places in a historical record like a photograph. Library professionals have an obligation to the materials housed in their repository and to tell their stories to the fullest degree possible.  Though most librarians are quite knowledgeable about the collections they serve, it is nearly impossible to be an expert on all the wide ranging topics covered in their holdings. For this reason librarians often function as facilitators, bringing their collections to the communities they document.

 Most of the more famous individuals Henderson photographed (Lillie May Carroll Jackson, Paul Robeson, Governor Theodore McKeldin, Bayard Rustin, Senator Verda Welcome, to list but a few) have already been identified. Now MdHS is focused on putting names to the faces and places that aren’t so familiar.

To start the process of collecting names of people and places, underbelly will feature some of Henderson’s photos and we invite you to look, share, and comment. For this edition of the Henderson Who or Where? series, we present two curious photographs that were shot in September and October of 1948.* They were labeled “Group of ladies” and “Taking a picture.” Looking closely at the two photographs, you can see a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and almost everyone who is pictured is female. Click to enlarge the photographs.

If you think you know who is featured in the photographs or where the photographs were taken, please respond via the Henderson Collection Survey. If you have questions, please feel free to email To view more of Henderson’s work (including many more unidentified photos), learn about the exhibition, and to view Henderson videos, please visit the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. All 6,000+ of Henderson’s negatives as available as public reference photographs through the MdHS Library. Please email for more information. (Jennifer A. Ferretti)

Jennifer A. Ferretti is a MLIS candidate at Pratt Institute in New York City. She is the former Curator of Photographs & Digitization Coordinator at MdHS and curated the Paul Henderson exhibition which is ongoing. She continues to volunteer for MdHS and maintains the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. Follow her on Twitter @jennydigiSILS.

*There have been discrepancies with the dates provided by the original repository of the collection (Baltimore City Life Museum). Read more about how MdHS came to house the collection on the Henderson Photographs blog.

A Short History of Hoes Heights

PP236.1771A Hoes Heights. Ornamental wall. Back of Roland stand pipe.

A view looking north along Evans Chapel Road and east to Roland Park. Hoes Heights. Ornamental wall. Back of Roland stand pipe, City Buildings Collection, 1926, MdHS, PP236.1771A

Ever wonder about Hoes Heights? The hidden and oft-overlooked north Baltimore neighborhood of Hoes Heights bears the name of Grandison Hoe, a freed slave in Antebellum Baltimore who once owned and operated a farm on the location. Nestled between its more renowned neighbors—Hampden to the south and Roland Park to the north— this neighborhood remained entirely African-American until the last few decades. Hoes Heights, bound by Cold Spring Lane to the north, 41st Street to the south, Falls Road to the west and Evans Chapel Road to the east, became part of Baltimore City under the 1918 Annexation Act. It is an architecturally diverse community consisting of 19th century stick style houses, turn of the century single-family homes, and brick rowhouses. Many are probably familiar with this neighborhood’s most prominent feature—the 148 foot tall water tower located on Roland Avenue near the intersection of University Parkway.

Grandison Hoe’s plot of land from J. Morris Wampler’s map of Hampden in 1857. Hampden Improvement Association map, J. Morris Wampler, 1857, MdHS, M271

The earliest reference to the Hoe property is found in an 1857 map of Hampden and its surrounding regions by J. Morris Wampler (seen to the left). The property’s boundaries terminated to the north at what is now Roland Heights Avenue and to the west along the crest of the hill that descends to Falls Road. In the 1860 census of Baltimore County, Grandison is listed as being 40 years of age with property worth $3,600 and an estate worth $200—a modest house on valuable land. Also listed as residents of the farm are his 38-year-old wife Lucy, their five children, and a man named Augustus Green. All are identified as farmers.

The history of Hoes Heights prior to 1857 is somewhat murky. Who deeded Grandison Hoe, a freed slave, this coveted piece of land? Eliza Hoe, who may have been a sister or close relative of Grandison, shows up in the 1870 census as a housekeeper for a branch of the Fendall family in Bolton Hill. This same family also owned property adjacent to Hoes Heights, which was once part of Charles Ridgley’s massive North Baltimore estate. This Hoe-Fendall connection could possibly explain how Grandison ended up with the land.

Hiram Woods (1826-1901), a local sugar refining magnate who owned land north of Cold Spring Lane, so desired Hoe’s Hill (as it was then known) that he offered several times to buy the land and resettle the Hoes in Cross Keys, a small African-American village just to the north. Woods even offered to relocate the family burial ground. The Hoes rejected the offer. (Woods’s parcel later became part of Roland Park.)

Lucy Hoe's plot of land. Taken from the Atlas of Baltimore and its Environs, 1877, MdHS.

Lucy Hoe’s plot of land. Taken from the Atlas of Baltimore and its Environs, 1877, MdHS.

As the Hoe family grew older the need for more living quarters arose. Grandison’s two sons, William and Richard, built their own houses adjacent to their father’s. Relatives, possibly from Charles County, moved to the Hoe farm and built homes. As the 20th century approached, the occupants of Hoes Heights began shifting from farm to domestic work, earning their livings in Roland Park and other exclusive neighborhoods. The harsh circumstances of the Great Depression forced the Hoes to sell portions of their land in order to pay delinquent tax bills. As a result, several blocks of small brick rowhouses were built on 43rd Street, 42nd  Street, Evans Chapel and Providence Road during the 1930s and 1940s. Around 70 houses were built with most sold to African-American veterans returning from World War II.

By 1876, Grandison Hoe was most likely deceased—the 1877 Atlas of Baltimore and its Environs, Vol. 1 by G. M. Hopkins shows the name Lucy Hoe on the parcel. The map also depicts a P. Solvine as the property owner of a small piece of land above Roland Heights Avenue terminating at Cold Spring Lane. The Solvine parcel (now part of Hoes Heights) eventually came to be known as Heathbrook. A mid-1970s census report states that Heathbrook was 100 percent white, while Hoes Heights was 100 percent African-American. Historically the two communities have maintained close ties—the Heathbrook Community Organization has worked closely with the Hoes Heights Improvement Association, but the two have remained separate entities.*

Today, Hoes Heights continues to feel more like a rural village than a city neighborhood. The amicable neighbors and tranquil setting gives the impression of simpler times and a real connection between past and present is evident. (Bryson Dudley)

Public School # 57 once stood where Evans Chapel Road intersects 41st Street. The wood-framed structure was torn down shortly after 1927 when 41st Street was reconfigured.

Public School # 57 once stood where Evans Chapel Road intersects 41st Street. The wood-framed structure was torn down shortly after 1927 when 41st Street was reconfigured. School #57. Church Street and Merryman’s Avenue. City Buildings Collection, 1926, MdHS, PP236.0946A

The Roland water tower at the entrance to the complex, designed by Lucius White in 1937, still stands today. The Greenspring Dairy moved out in the 1980s and the land was repurposed as a shopping center.The Greenspring Dairy later occupied the southern seven acres of the Hoe property. The company began delivering milk by horse and wagon to Baltimore residents in 1919 under the leadership of the Kemp family. They soon motorized their fleet and incorporated in 1932. The factory in Hoes Heights was built around this time.

The Roland tower which was built in 1904-1905 still stands today. Designed by William J. Fizone. Roland stand pipe (water tower), City Buildings Collection, 1926, MdHS, PP236.1773A

Bryson Dudley is a volunteer in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society. He is also the sole writer and creator of the blog Monument City which features the numerous public memorials, neighborhoods, and historic structures throughout the city of Baltimore.
*The Hoes Heights Improvement Association was created in the 1920s to lobby the city for services that surrounding communities were receiving. The group incorporated in 1965 and presented a neighborhood plan to Baltimore officials in 1979. The Greater Homewood Community Corporation and the city’s planning department aided in the process.
Sources and links:

Hoes Heights: A Neighborhood Plan (Hampden Pratt library vertical file)

1860 BaltimoreCounty census (Towsontown courthouse)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Passano File

Baltimore Evening Sun May 8, 1934

Baltimore‘s Two Cross Keys villages by Jim Holechek

Baltimore Deco by S. Cucchiella

“Facing the Masks”: Masked Mystery Solved

"The White Masks Inspecting a Prisoner at Detective Headquarters,"

“The White Masks Inspecting a Prisoner at Detective Headquarters,” Hughes Company Photograph Collection, unknown photographer (possibly James W. Scott), ca.1909, MdHS, PP8-585 / Z9.584.PP8.

Last week we reached out for help understanding a photograph, and wow, did we get it. Our photo from the Hughes Company collection traveled far and wide. The image, known then as “Detective room, Police Department,” was not only a headscratcher, but also a Rorschach Test of sorts. Different eyes saw different things happening. Speculations, observations, and facts, sent via e-mail and comments, ranged from thinking it was initiation ritual to a theatrical production still. The majority who weighed in felt that what’s depictied is a police line-up. Within less than two day’s time enough evidence mounted to reasonably argue that it is a police line-up.  Whether or not it was staged or the real thing is one of the few questions left unanswered.

We now know to call this photo “‘The White Masks’ Inspecting a Prisoner at Detectives Headquarters.” The first info to arrive came from Bill Zorzi, a former Baltimore Sun editor and writer/producer/actor of The Wire. In an early afternoon e-mail to this writer he wrote:

“At first I thought it looked as if it might be a courtroom—which they used to have in the old police station houses—given the paneling and the brass bar. Then I counted the masked men, which totaled 15—too big for a jury (even with alternates) and too small for a grand jury. Then I thought, hmmm, I bet this is the forerunner of the ol’ police lineup… before 2-way mirrors…”

Zorzi followed his e-mail with another containing ten articles from The Sun. But before his second transmission arrived, commenter Bill Lefurgy, archivist/digital preservationist at the Library of Congress, quoted a Sun entry titled “Sleuths Have Mask System: First Prisoner Subject to Ordeal Turns Pale,” from July 29, 1908:

“…the Baltimore Detective Department initiated a ‘mask system’ that ‘enables detectives to examine crooks without being recognized.’ The description is of masks ‘of the ordinary white dominoes with white muslin covering the lower part of the face,’ worn by 20 detectives; the detective captain is described as unmasked….”

The article details how a young pickpocket, Hymen Movitz (18 years old) faced 20 masked detectives, turned pale, and clutched at the brass rail in our photo. Now we know when the practice was first implemented in Baltimore. Our photograph was taken after July 1908.

Several articles in the historic Baltimore Sun (accessible for free via ProQuest if you have a Pratt Library account) detail the story behind our photo. The paper has since posted some images of these articles on their DarkRoom blog. Sherlock Swann, whose collected papers are available at the MdHS Special Collections Department, was appointed president of the Police Board in 1908. Well known and highly regarded for his tenure as the Burnt District Commissioner after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Swann is apparently the first head of police to actually put serious effort into the job.


“Operations and Photographing Department—Bertillon Bureau,” History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2.

In March 1908, Swann traveled to New York City to school himself on the operations of a big city police department. One of the many practices he brought back with him was a ritual known as the “facing of the masks.” This practice was developed by Inspector Byrnes of New York in the mid-1880s. It was presumably a preventative measure. Masks were employed on the speculation that some career-minded criminals might have themselves arrested simply to learn the faces of detectives, thus adding to their skills and value.

In what seems a rather intimidating practice, police would parade detainees about to be released due to lack of evidence before detectives wearing the white masks seen above. It was all part of the daily morning routine. In New York the practice was done on a much larger scale involving up to 100 detectives. Officially, the line-up was held so that detectives could learn the features and mannerisms of individuals who would surely be passing through their doors again and again. However, one can’t help but speculate this was as much as a shaming/intimidating ritual as a useful law enforcement practice, especially considering that a photography department existed even at Baltimore’s small Bertillon Bureau. Each arrestee had already had his picture taken for the “Rogue’s Gallery.”

By 1911, the NYPD had abandoned the masked line-up for being time consuming and wasteful of the detectives’ time.* These factors didn’t stop the Baltimore police from using it for many years.

HIstory of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2 (below), an earlier edition held at MdHS above.

History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2 (below), an earlier edition held at MdHS (above).

The most definitive piece of evidence we received was sent in by Jeff Korman of the Maryland Department at the Enoch Pratt Library. He identified the photo from a book in the Pratt’s collection, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe. The photo, Korman said, appeared on page xvii. This came as quite a surprise to me, as the MdHS library has an earlier edition of the book without the photo. (HBPD 1774-1907)

The following day I went to the Pratt and met with Korman. He showed me the five different editions from their holdings, earlier ones like ours without the photo and later editions with the detectives faces obscured by a gilt stamp to protect their identities. We are now able to identify two of the three unmasked men. The moustached man on the far left is Detective Joseph E. Coughlan. Two spaces down and slightly turned to his left is Sergeant, Detective Harry P. Schanberger. They’re probably not wearing masks because they were the brass of the department and did not have to do undercover work.

Whoops, redaction!

Whoops, redaction! History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2 (below), an earlier edition held at MdHS (above).

All the information above dates our picture between 1908-09. It’s the only photo of its kind in our Hughes Collection. We may never know the identity of the African-American man on the riser. We may never know if he was arrested or if this was a staged demonstration for a photographer. But we have heard from enough voices who agree that this image is at once disturbing, perplexing, and stunning. It speaks volumes about our recent past.

MdHS would like to thank everyone who shared the photo, sent comments, clues, and criticisms, and enjoyed helping. (Joe Tropea)

*A New York Times piece from Feb. 9, 1914, “Police Line-up Is Resumed Today” details the discontinuation of the practice before it was reinstated in a modified form—less detectives—some three years later.

Sources and further reading:

The Baltimore Sun

“Colonel Swann ‘At School,'” Mar. 14, 1908: 14; “Col. Swann Returns,” Mar. 16, 1908: 7; “Must ‘Face the Masks,'” May 6, 1908: 12; “Sleuths Have Mask System,” July 29, 1908: 12; “Police Use Spotlight,” July 31, 1908: 12; “His Record on Police Board,” Apr. 21, 1910: 14; “Line-up of Crooks Stopped,” Aug. 13, 1911: 2; “Alleged Thief Silent,” Dec. 7, 1913: 7.

McCabe, Clinton, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 available at MdHS and the Enoch Pratt libraries.

Down with Love: A Brief History of the Vinegar Valentine

"A Professional Scandal Monger," ca. 1840-1910, MdHS, Valentine Ephemera, Series Z.

“A Professional Scandal Monger,” 1840-1910, MdHS, Valentine Ephemera, Series Z.

While rummaging through our Valentine’s Day card collection in a search for long forgotten declarations of love and fidelity, an interesting style of valentine came to light. Among the lacy, pastel-toned confections, we discovered a group of amusing but mean-spirited notes, known as vinegar valentines.

Jokesters during the Victorian era sent these less-than-loving valentines to those they felt needed a reminder of their faults. The nasty notes lampooned every sin from drunkenness and sloth to gossip-mongering and husband hunting. They were generally sent anonymously and caused quite an uproar because of their foul content. The New York Times called purchasers of these valentines “hydra-headed monster[s] who gloat over distorted effigies of human nature and cruel cutting things in rhyme.” Postmasters were known to toss the offensive cards. One postal worker mirthfully recounted several fights that took place in his post office after unsuspecting patrons opened their mail on Valentine’s Day only to discover an unkind note. He described one such scuffle between two women in which the ladies “abandon themselves to an embrace which results in a terrible disarrangement of bonnets, eye-glasses, and other feminine toggery, to say nothing of the utter destruction of the three comic Valentines, two chignons, one blue cotton umbrella, and various other articles now not remembered….”

"Fishing for a Wife," ca.1840-1910, MdHS, Valentine Ephemera, Series Z.

“Fishing for a Wife,” ca.1840-1910, MdHS, Valentine Ephemera, Series Z.

Incidents like this only added to their condemnation. Moralists railed against the uneducated, unwashed masses who purchased such disgusting valentines, when in truth they had pervaded all levels of society. People of all social classes reported both sending and receiving them. It was also widely believed a vinegar valentine caused New Yorker Margaret Craig to take a fatal dose of laudanum after receiving one from a supposed admirer. The veracity of this tragic story was never proven, but it spawned similar rumors and further outraged the anti-vinegar valentine coalition.

Despite the backlash (or maybe because of it), they were quite popular. As one detractor, a “Colonel” Eidolon, so eloquently put it, “comic, indecent, and caricaturing Valentines fly like hail from a wintry sky.” They made up about half the valentine market during their heyday. Their cheap cost and standardized postage allowed upper and lower class pranksters alike to ruin someone’s day.

So, if you just got dumped, blown off, or just plain hate Valentine’s Day, check out these gems from the collection and maybe get a little inspiration for a vinegar valentine to send to a foe of your own. Click the image to enlarge. (Lara Westwood)



Adkins, Milton T. “In a Country Post-Office.” Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine 93 (1873):247-251.

Eidolon, Colonel. “Saint Valentine’s Day. Historical and Poetical.” The United States Democratic Review 4 (1855): 68-72.

Valentine’s is coming…

… to underbelly this Thursday. Guest-blogger Lara Westwood gets down with love in a look at the history of the Vinegar Valentine:

"Wife for Old Nick," ca. 1840-1910, MdHS, Valentine Ephemera, Series Z.

“A Wife for Old Nick,’ ca. 1840-1910, MdHS, Valentine Ephemera, Series Z.

It's a game of thorns.

It’s a game of thorns.